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Make the Invisible Visible – Look for “The Drum”

Continuous Improvement

Mark Woeppel - April 17, 2013

What is the first thing to do to increase output when you need more, yesterday?

Often, when output needs to increase, we learn that this heightened sense of urgency creates rushed decisions and frantic behavior.  This leads to the obvious and time-tested band-ads: adding another shift, throwing overtime at the problem or buying another machine.  As many of us know, the costs of a new machine or the possibility of adding yet another shift quickly adds up costs or may not even be possible.  So how to squeeze more from the system when it seems like it’s maxed out?

Look for the part of the process that dictates the output of the process.  The part of a that is most likely to set the pace for the whole line and impose delays everywhere else.  This is the constraint, or the “drum” of the process, as it set the pace of output.

Identifying the constraint begins with one step – careful observation.  We need to analyze the process to find the bottleneck.  Ask such questions as “why do we feel that it is impossible to increase production capacity?” or “what step holds up the rest of the line?” Observe the process to see what is going on.  Just the act of asking “Why?” will point to a solution.

When there is extreme pressure to make improvements and increase capacity, wait on implementation until the system is understood.  While this seems counterproductive given the timelines we usually encounter, you’ll make more progress stepping back and working from understanding.  By identifying where first to act, you will be able to act effectively to make a bigger, more certain impact on process performance.

When Pinnacle Strategies was called by BP to help increase output critical components to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we needed to find a way to have the manufacturers increase output even after they had “maxed out” their production.  At each plant we visited, management felt that it was impossible to squeeze more output from their plants.  These manufacturers were under pressure to increase output, and with the guarantee of selling what they produce, there was also strong incentive to increase output.

Read how we looked for the drum and had amazing results in the first lesson of our eBook, Achieving Top Performance Under the Worst Conditions: 7Lessons Learned from a Disaster. 

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